The Great Commission Part 3

(Matthew 28:16-20)

The third element of the Great Commission given by Jesus to his disciples was, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Verse 20) He told the disciples to teach the people what he had taught them. These are the teachings of the New Covenant, which he instructed the disciples to teach to those who came to them.

He did not instruct them to teach the law and prophets or the Ten Commandments or anything that pertained to the Law of Moses. As we saw in the last post, baptism is meant to set us free from law so why would that form part of the New Covenant? There are many sections in the New Testament where Jesus and the apostles taught or had disputes about the teaching of the law to the new disciples. The law is not part of the New Covenant and in fact it can have a damaging effect on those who are under the New Covenant.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not preaching to oppose the law nor do I oppose the law. There is great wisdom contained in the law for it was the words of God given to Israel to show them right from wrong. We can learn much from the law about how to live a life that is in harmony with God and those about us. But within the law comes the knowledge of sin and the law cannot set a person free from sin. That is only possible by faith in the grace of God and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to take away the sins of the world and this cannot be achieved under the law since it is the law that condemns man as a sinner. If sin is to be removed, then the law must go too.

The commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples under the Great Commission was to teach the people to observe all the “HE” had commanded them. There is a conflict between the teachings of Jesus under the New Covenant and the Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant law was about bondage and sin, but the New Covenant is about freedom, release from sin and life. These two cannot exist together. You cannot be in bondage and freedom at the same time. As oil and water do not mix, neither can freedom and bondage.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:1-6 that to try to live under both covenants at the same time was like living in adultery. It cannot and should not be done. Again I have discussed this in much more detail in my free eBook, “The Foundations of Christianity” which you can download and review if you choose and I refer you there for a more detailed study of these matters.

Is it then any wonder that so many Christians are confused and suffering needlessly? If they are trying to live under the two covenants at the same time, and thus trying to live a life of freedom while under the bondage of the law, they have no chance of progressing in Christ. They will live as good a life as they can and will be accepted for what they have rather than what they do not have, but they will suffer needlessly under condemnation because it is only when the law is removed that the Holy Spirit can begin the work of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.

And all of this occurs because the teachers and the churches (not all mind you) have not heeded the words of the Great Commission to teach the people, “…to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Verse 20) They are being taught things that were NOT commanded by Jesus. Thus we see the confusion in the church. If it were only the teachings of the Old Covenant that were clouding the minds of Christians it would be hard enough, but they also bring in many other teachings and lies that have no basis in scripture whatsoever. So it is important for all of us as individuals to seek out the truth for ourselves. In the final judgement we will all have to stand before God and give account and there will be no one to act as intercessory on our behalf. It is our responsibility to find the truth.

And at the end of this final section of Matthew 28 Jesus gives us a great promise. He says to all of his disciples, then and now, “I am with you always to the close of the age.” (Verse 20) Jesus has never left us. He is always here if we will seek him out. He said for us to seek and we would find him. This was not “maybe” you will find him, but a definite, “you WILL find me.” (Matthew 7:7) It is up to us to seek the Lord for he is there to be found when we search for him diligently. Jesus will come to us to teach, guide, strengthen, protect and comfort us. In due course as we listen to his commandments and follow his ways he will transform us into his image through the Holy Spirit and will give us eternal life if we will walk in his ways.

Jesus is with us now and forever until the close of the age. His return is drawing near, so we must also be diligent and prepare for his return. Give him praise and thanks for the opportunity to know and be known by him.

This now ends my commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and I shall move on to the Gospel of Mark in the next post.

The Great Commission Part 2

(Matthew 28:16-20)

The second element of the Great Commission after telling the eleven to go and make disciples was, “…baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Verse 19) Some churches have either ignored this element of the Great Commission or given it only lip service. They do not understand the importance and significance of baptism, especially water baptism.

Given that these words from the Lord to his disciples were probably the last words he spoke to them on earth, you would expect they would be extremely meaningful and important. Nothing that Jesus said in teaching his disciples was ever without meaning and valuable as a lesson. So in these last words of his you could naturally expect Jesus to emphasise the very important matters that they were to recall and do under the Great Commission.

This baptism in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit was incredibly important both then and now. The fact that this message was given in the last words of the Lord makes it incomprehensible that some churches today do not take these words seriously. They either do not observe this command of the Lord at all, or treat baptism as a kind of initiation into the church and a naming ceremony for babies. It was never intended as such. They fail to see and understand the truth and ramifications of water baptism. Since Jesus made a point of telling his disciples to do this specific thing as they made disciples, especially as Jesus himself was baptised before he began his ministry by John the Baptist, then it is evident that the Lord placed great importance on baptism. When we learn and understand the truth about baptism we begin to see why the Lord emphasised this requirement for all his disciples in his final words.

It is through baptism that we die with Christ as we go down into the water. And then as we are raised out of the water we are symbolically resurrected with Christ. By faith in believing that we enter into the death and resurrection of Christ as we go through baptism we then gain entry into the kingdom of God. It is by this faith in entering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through baptism that we are set free from past sins and set free from the bondage to the law. In baptism we take on the death of Jesus Christ as if it were our own death, and that is what we believe. And if we believe that we have died through the body of Christ by proxy, God says that he accepts us as having died to our old life and being reborn as new creations in Jesus Christ.

Now when a person dies they are no longer under the power of sin and the law. Paul showed this in Romans 7:4 saying, “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ.” And if we are dead to the law we are no longer under it. And if we are no longer under the law we can no longer break the law and so we are set free from sin. And if we are set free from sin we can stand righteous before God, but only by faith. We still have all the weaknesses and failures of humanity and we still fall down and make mistakes, but as new creations in Christ we come to the place where God can and will work with us to transform us into the image of Christ. He will slowly work with us and take away all those human weaknesses and failures until we can stand righteous not just by faith, but in the way we live. We may not achieve that place in this lifetime, but the work will commence immediately once we are baptised and hold on to these elements of faith.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to do the transformation within us as Paul wrote, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) The veil that covers a persons face referred to here is the law. When the law is removed, then the Holy Spirit is able to do the work of transformation.

All of this commences and is based upon being baptised in water into the death and resurrection of Christ and understanding through faith what that baptism is all about. This is why it is so important and why Jesus took pains to emphasise the need for baptism in his last words to the disciples.

There is a great deal of scripture that discusses the purpose and power of baptism throughout the New Testament and space here does not permit a full discussion. If you would like to look at this in more depth and check the scriptures that deal with baptism, I recommend to you to look at my free eBook on the “Foundations of Christianity” which is located elsewhere on my website.

I will look at the last element of the Great Commission in the next post.

The Great Commission Part 1

(Matthew 28:16-20)

After he had risen from the grave Jesus instructed his disciples to go to Galilee where he would meet with them. It was on the Mount of Olives where he gave them what is often called the Great Commission. Their task was from that time forward to go into the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

The Great Commission actually had three parts. The first of these was the requirement to make disciples. This is quite well known to all of the churches. A great deal of energy and effort is put into this part of the Great Commission by many churches today. They spend a good deal of time in the process of making disciples, and this is a good thing for it is important that all people have the opportunity to come to the Lord. The benefit they receive is a better life now and the promise of eternal life in the future.

However there were two other elements to the Great Commission, which are to greater or lesser degrees either ignored or not well understood. Not by all churches as there are always exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority focus mainly on the first element of the Great Commission to the detriment and sometimes the exclusion of the others. In this post I will look only at the first element, making disciples, but will look at the other two elements in more detail in the next couple of posts.

In regards to making disciples, it was at this time that we see the Lord for the first time declare open the way for all mankind to come to him. No longer was the promise of being God’s people limited to the nation of Israel, but it was now opened to all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. Under the New Covenant your lineage, race, colour of skin and ethnicity was immaterial. All people had the way open to come to God through Jesus Christ under the New Covenant.

Of course this was not the first time this had been spoken of for the prophets in the Old Testament had prophesied that this would occur. But at this time when Jesus specifically said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Verse 19) he opened the floodgates, announcing that the time had come and the prophecies were fulfilled regarding this matter.

It was then that he told the disciples what they should do in making disciples. He had already taught them all they needed to know and given them his own example to follow. Now they needed to take that knowledge and information forward to expand the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ among all peoples by following the second and third elements of the Great Commission.

Jesus Resurrection Cover up by the Priests

(Matthew 28:11-15)

After Jesus had risen from the grave, the soldiers guarding him went back to the priests and reported all that had happened. It is unimaginable to think what went through the minds of the priests. They believed they had finally killed and gotten rid of Jesus just a few short days ago in shameful and humiliating circumstances, and yet now they were hearing reports that he had risen from the grave!

However rather than repent, accept and believe the truth about Jesus, they continued to follow their own evil path. They lied about it. They bribed the soldiers to spread a lie that the disciples of Jesus had come by night and carried off his dead body. Today this lie still exists and has been perpetuated over the many intervening years. One wonders how a small band of peace seeking men and women could overpower a trained company of soldiers who were armed to carry out such a deed. Such a lie cannot be remotely conceivable as truth and yet it persists even today.

Any person who has come to know the truth of the New Covenant and the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ can refute this lie in an instant. When you have seen and felt the power of the Holy Spirit in your life and the miraculous change that comes with knowing Jesus as saviour and Lord, you will know that there is no lie in what Christians believe. In Jesus Christ we receive the power to become the children of God.

We can perceive the truth of the resurrection of Jesus in the events and changes taking place in the lives of Christians. The power of the blood of Christ to save us from sin, to set us free from law and to reconcile us to God is truly wondrous. And the resurrection through which we are raised as new creations gives us the ability to stand perfect before God through Jesus Christ and the grace of God.

The New Covenant is simplicity itself, but he power of the New Covenant is beyond human wisdom or comprehension. For that we give thanks to God for his mercy, grace and love that have given us this opportunity to know him and to be known by him.

The Resurrection of Jesus

(Matthew 28:1-10)

The single most significant event of Christianity was the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection of Jesus all of the rest of Christianity falls apart and is meaningless.

The New Covenant could only come into force and be ratified upon the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But the life that we receive under the New Covenant rests on the resurrection of the Lord, not his death. Life is in the resurrection as Jesus said of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) The death of Jesus was a critical event, for we enter into his kingdom through being baptised into the death of Jesus. But it is in the resurrection of Christ that we are raised as new creations, set free from sin, law, death and condemnation and receive life.

The resurrection is the one defining doctrine of Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions. Only Christianity preaches the power of the resurrection and entrance into eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It is also the only religion where worshippers cannot visit the grave of the founder of the religion, for Jesus is alive: “He is risen.” (Verse 6)

Jesus’ resurrection was not hidden in a corner. He appeared to all of the disciples, including five hundred at one time in the days that followed his resurrection. The soldiers guarding the tomb were witnesses to the angel rolling back the stone at the door of the tomb, before they fainted with fright. They reported it back to the priests and so it must have been clear to them the truth of the resurrection. Still they refused to believe and sought to cover it with lies.

As an aside, the first people entrusted to preach the resurrection were not the Lord’s close disciples, but were women. The two Mary’s were specifically told by the angel to go to the disciples and carry the message that Jesus had risen and would meet them in Galilee. The disciples did not believe them when they took this message back, and in the Mark version we see the Lord upbraided the disciples for their hardness of heart and unbelief for not listening to these women (Mark 16:14) Today we see a great contention about women in ministry, but the Lord showed no such partiality. In fact he entrusted women with this first message of the resurrection that is central and pivotal to the New Covenant and Christianity, and that women should bring the message to the disciples.

In the resurrection we see the fulfilment of the work of Jesus on earth and the power of God through Jesus to reconcile man to God. Let us give him thanks for this inexpressible gift that through the death and resurrection of Jesus we might have the right to stand before God and receive life.

The Burial of Jesus

(Matthew 27:57-66)

After Jesus had died, a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple, went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. He took the body and prepared it for burial by wrapping it in a linen shroud and laying it in his own brand new tomb hewn into a great rock. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat opposite the sepulchre as a great stone was rolled against the door. This all happened to fulfil the words of the prophet Isaiah, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9)

But after all of this we see the priests go to Pilate to make the tomb secure. They knew Jesus said he would rise from the dead after three days, but did not believe him. However they expected his disciples might come and steal away the body in the night and claim Jesus had risen.

Their attempts to prevent Jesus resurrection would prove fruitless. They may as well have tried to stop the tide turning. However they were given a company of soldiers to stand guard and make the tomb as secure as they could. With these preparations and security in place they felt any attempts to remove the body would be stymied.

But they did not consider the purpose and plan of God. It was necessary that the Lord be raised and that it would not happen in secret. Many would witness his resurrection. There would be a great many witnesses and proofs of his resurrection to come in the following six weeks or so as Jesus would appear many times to his disciples and others. This will be discussed further in upcoming posts.

Jesus Earthly Family

(Matthew 27:55-56)

As Jesus was dying there were many people around him. Two of them we see in all accounts were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. But who were these two women?

Mary Magdalene is spoken of in several places, and she played an important role after Jesus resurrection. She was a convert to Christianity after she had been exorcised of seven demons. (Luke 8:2) Contrary to popular opinion, nowhere in the bible does it ever say or even hint that she was a prostitute as she is often portrayed. I do not know how this myth arose as there is no scriptural basis for this common assertion. She became one of several women who had been healed of infirmities or demon possession, and travelled about with Jesus and the disciples attending to their needs from their own means.

As for the second Mary standing afar and watching the Lord die, her identity is a little more of a mystery. The bible in this section says she was the mother of James and Joseph.  Two people were named James who are referred to in the early church. These two early disciples were James the brother of John and sons of Zebedee, and James the elder who wrote the book of James in the New Testament. It is clear this woman was not the mother of the two brothers for their mother, the wife of Zebedee also stood with the two Mary’s watching the Lord die.

There is another place where the mother of James and Joseph is mentioned. When Jesus returned to his own country and among the people he grew up with, they were amazed at the works and teachings he was giving. They said of him, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13:53-56) This second Mary looking on from afar at the Lord dying was Mary the mother of Jesus.

Jesus is often portrayed as an only child, but here we see that he had at least four brothers and two or more sisters, for the writer refers to “sisters” being plural.  Joseph and Mary had other children after Jesus birth. Jesus was of course the Son of God, Mary being the vessel used for his birth. But Joseph was the father of the others who thus were half brothers and sisters to the Lord in the flesh. Paul spoke of James in this way, “James, the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:19) Matthew also wrote of an event saying, “…his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.” (Matthew 12:46)

From these and other scriptures it is clear that Jesus was not an only child, but he had a family here on earth. Also we can now see that this Mary standing afar and watching him die was his earthly mother. One cannot begin to imagine her anguish as a mother, but she too would receive great joy when he arose.

Signs Attending the Death of Jesus

(Matthew 27:51-54)

 

When Jesus yielded up his spirit there were signs attending his death. The most significant of these was the curtain in the temple that separates the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom.

 

This was no ordinary curtain. It separated the Ark of the Covenant from the people. It was quite a thick and heavy curtain and stood twenty cubits tall (thirty feet or a little over nine metres). No man would have the strength or the capability to tear this curtain in two, especially beginning from the top.

 

This curtain was also a symbolic barrier. Only the high priest could enter behind it, and then only once each year on the day of Atonement to offer sacrifices for sin, first for himself and then for the people. This showed that there was a barrier between man and God, and that barrier was sin. No man could enter into the presence of God because of sin. All men sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Only the high priest could approach God once a year in the Holy of Holies and only after offering the sacrifices for sin for himself and the people.

 

But at the death of Jesus all this was changed. The veil that stood between man and God in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Symbolically this shows that at the death of Jesus it became possible for all men to come into the presence of God since there no longer existed a barrier. The way was open to all people through the death of Christ. He took not the blood of goats and bulls as a sin offering, but his own blood as the perfect sacrifice. And not for forgiveness of sin, but to take away the sins of man and set man free from sin and law so that men could come into the presence of God.

 

That is why these signs occurred at his death. They indicated there was a new way forward and a new way for man to stand righteous before God.

 

Other signs were the great earthquake that shook the earth and the saint that were resurrected from the tombs and went into the holy city. We should note that these saints were not resurrected until after the resurrection of Jesus. This was to show that Jesus is the resurrection and the life as he had stated. (John 11:25)

 

The earthquake that shook the earth at his death was nothing compared to how the New Covenant would shake the world from that time forward. We are still feeling the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus shaking the world today.

 

Is it any wonder then that the Centurion and those standing with him said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” (Verse 54)

The Death of Jesus

(Matthew 27:45-50)

After Jesus had been nailed to the stake we see darkness descend over the earth for three hours. Some say that there was a solar eclipse at this time. However a solar eclipse lasts only minutes as the moon passes across the face of the sun. In this case twilight and darkness covered the land for three hours.

Clearly this was a sign to show who this was that was being put to death. Here was the great King of kings and Lord of lords dying for the sake of man. He was being put to death wrongfully for he had done only good and never sinned in his life. The sign was recognition of the great and grave gift he was making on our behalf.

In his final moment Jesus called out to the Father saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Verse 46) Had the Father forsaken Jesus? No he was with him always, but Jesus in his anguish must have felt he had been left alone.

There are times when we too feel all alone. There are times when we feel the Lord has left us. But he is with us at all times. He said as we ascended into heaven, “…lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) When we feel alone it is often we that have walked away from him, not the other way around. When we are in those places we need to take the advice of James saying in James 4:7-10,

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.
9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

If we draw near to God he will draw near to us. When we come to him he will rush towards us as the father of the prodigal son did to his broken and repentant son. When we are feeling separated from God it is often that we have strayed, so let us turn to God in repentance and come back into his presence.

At the end of this section in Matthew we see that Jesus finally cried out with a loud voice and then gave up his spirit. These words are telling too, for his life could not be taken from him. Life is taken and man because of sin receives death. Paul wrote that, “Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) So man does not get the right to determine his death, his life is taken away because of sin. However Jesus had never sinned and so he gave up his life as it could not be taken from him. Jesus explained this himself saying, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17- 18)

There were many other things that took place at the death of Jesus, which will be discussed in the next few posts.

Jesus Nailed to the Stake

 (Matthew 27:32-44)

To all the readers of this blog:

I will be away for the next two weeks until the end of April 2011 and unsure of internet access. I will attempt to keep posting during that time but cannot guarantee there will be a post every day. Thank you for reading my blog and I do hope you gain something useful. Now to today’s instalment…

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Jesus was led away to be nailed to the stake. I have used the term “stake” rather than “cross” for the Greek word is literally translated as stake and not cross. I am led to believe that this word was translated as “crux” in the Latin Vulgate and thus when the early translations into English were done they took the word “crux” and rendered it as “cross.” Whether the actual stake Jesus was nailed to had a transverse beam or not is not really known. Thus I will use the term “stake” as it was written in the original Greek.

When a person was put to death in this manner it was normal customer and practice in those times to also nail up the charge or list of charges against them. This was to show the basis for the execution. In the case of Jesus the “charge” that was written was, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Now while they meant it to be mockery and a denouncement of Jesus, it was in actual fact the truth. They did not know it at the time, or rather refused to accept it as truth, but it was indeed the truth. He was both King of kings and Lord of lords.

All who saw him thus displayed derided and reviled him. Even the two thieves who were likewise executed with him derided him, and yet t hey too were suffering the same punishment. Such is the foolishness of men. In one of the other versions of these events we see one of the robbers come to his senses. He said to the other robber that they too were in the same situation as Jesus and yet Jesus had done no wrong. He repented of his actions and asked the Lord to remember him when he came into his Kingdom, which the Lord said he would do. Many people use this situation as a point of hope to make a deathbed confession and thus be saved.

Anyone who thinks such as this is living in a fool’s paradise. Who apart from God knows the timing or manner of their death? Who knows whether they will even have the chance to make a deathbed confession? And if they have lived a life of sin and this confession is just a mockery or a slim hope of not suffering for their sins, will it even be accepted by the Lord? God knows the hearts of all mankind and will render to each according to their faith and works. If anyone thinks there is a “get out of jail free card” by making a deathbed confession is kidding themselves. The old saying that you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time does not apply to God. You cannot fool God ANY of the time.

Jesus suffered humiliation right up to the point of his death. It was as if the devil wanted to wring out every ounce of suffering, derision and humiliation against the Lord that he could. And well he might, for in the death of Jesus, Satan was defeated and the Lord victorious. In the death of Jesus the New Covenant came into force and through Jesus’ death man was able to be set free from sin, death and all forms of bondage. The devil is the master of bondage and so in the death of Jesus those bonds were not just loosened, they were shattered.

In spite of the humiliation of Jesus or rather because of his humiliation we should give thanks. Without his death we would still walk in sin and under the power and bondage of the law. But in his death we are set free if we come to him and accept his freedom through faith in the power of his blood and through entering into this death in baptism. Praise be to God for his gift.